One of the most common questions I receive in my work is:
How do I know the difference between fear that’s coming from anxiety and fear that’s coming from intuition alerting me to a real problem?
It’s the million-dollar question, the one that drives people to my site in a middle-of-the-night Google search, the one that causes untold amounts of misery, the one that catches people on the hamster wheel of their intrusive thoughts. It’s often the meta-question above all of the other perseverating questions, and, because it carries so much power, it’s the one that prevents people from committing to their inner work. Sub-questions include:
What if there really is something wrong with my relationship and by calling it “relationship anxiety” I’m ignoring a real problem?
What if there really is something wrong with my health and by calling it “health anxiety” I’m ignoring a real problem?
The ability to discern between a true problem and anxiety hinges on self-trust. Self-trust is the quiet, clear, grounded place inside of you that is connected to wisdom. It’s beyond “right” and “wrong”. It’s transcends “shoulds”. It cuts through what you’ve been told you’re supposed to do, your parents’ or peers’ opinions, and what the culture espouses. And you’re the only one who can access it. Self-trust is your knowing, your wisdom, and your voice.
It’s also your birthright. It’s the crystal compass at the center of your being that has existed inside of you from the moment you were born. It’s the part of you that knew when you were hungry, knew that you needed to be close to your caregivers, know who you liked, when you wanted to eat, and what you needed. It’s an essential part of you, and retrieving your lost self-trust allows you to navigate your life with clarity and confidence.
Self-trust is also intimately connected to self-knowledge, for it’s when we know ourselves, which happens by spending time exploring our internal labyrinths with the headlight of curiosity strapped to our forehead, turning over rocks, examining what lives in the dark, forgotten soil and also the places of unspeakably beautiful light, that we begin to know ourselves and like ourselves. This is the equation that I teach in my Trust Yourself course:
Self-Knowledge + Self-Love = Self-Trust
When you know yourself, you can discern the subtle but clear difference between the anxiety-voice and the intuition-sense. Through spending time criss-crossing your inner terrain, you get to know your reactions and the subtle differences between anxiety and intuition, all of which leads to trusting yourself. This is one the biggest challenges of working with anxiety: anxiety and intuition can sound and feel almost exactly the same. It’s the muscle of self-trust that discerns between the two.
I’ll share an example of what the muscle of discernment looks like:
My boys are playing outside in the snow. My husband comes in from his studio, looks out the window, and asks, “Where are the boys? I don’t see them out there. Maybe they’re down at the creek.” My fear-mind, which is often the first to raise its hand, tosses me an image of them being attacked and eaten by the bear that has been roaming around our property for the past few months.
This is my inherited fear, its neural pathways strengthened both by my temperament as a highly sensitive person (hypervigilant to danger) and by my ancestral habits that have been handed down for generations. There’s my grandmother, her lips drawn tight with worry. There’s my mother, imagining the worst-case scenario about her kids. And it’s not hard to imagine my great-great-great grandmother rubbing her hands in deep worry about the survival of her children.
My ancestors had good reason to worry, and yours did, too. It’s essential here to remember that it’s only recently that we’ve lived in environments that are more safe than not safe, and in bodies that have a greater chance of health than illness (and when we do get sick, the brilliance of medicine both East and West is here to help us). Anxiety connected to real-and-present danger has been an evolutionary advantage that has served us well for thousands of years. But, as it’s quite rare, especially in certain parts of the world to be in a situation that is life-threatening, we’re being asked to evolve the tendency to catastrophize at every turn.
So, back to the bear… if I give voice to the fear and say something out loud to my husband like, “Do you think they’re being mauled by a bear?”, I’m throwing a log on fear’s fire, which will only grow the fear flames (fear is inflamed by attention). But when I tune in I can feel that this thought is a story that my mind is handing me. The fear-line has an upper-layer quality to it, as if it’s coming from my head. It doesn’t feel sturdy or real. Some part of me knows that my boys aren’t being eaten by a bear. So I don’t say anything.
Then my husband says, “Oh, there they are. They’re playing under the cottonwood trees. Do you think that’s safe?” Immediately, I feel a slight tightness in my chest, and I can see in my mind’s eye the weight of the already several-ton branches now being weighted down even more with several inches of snow. Without over-thinking and trusting my intuition I say, “That’s probably not the best idea. Can you ask them not to play over there when you go back out?”
Anxiety feels familiar and alarming, but when I sit with it for even a moment, I can sense that it doesn’t hold water.
True intuition is grounded and clear. It’s a knowing that I can trust.
Again, this is a subtle difference that I’m aware of because of decades of unraveling and healing from the ruptures of self-doubt that defined my first part of life. This is the same place that fueled my perfectionism, caring what others think, and being addicted to approval. I share the story of how I broke free from these well-worn tendencies in my Trust Yourself program, as well as the mindsets and tools that, when practiced, can help you heal from self-doubt and replace it with self-trust. For there’s a clear and accessible roadmap that, when followed, will help you reverse the focus of your attention from external to internal so that you can know yourself and love yourself, which will restore the self-trust that is your birthright, your compass, and your joy.
My 13th round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt will begin on Saturday, November 16th, 2019. I only lead this course twice a year, spots are filling fast, and I look forward to meeting you there. Also, next Monday November 11th, I’m offering a free webinar on self-love and self-trust. You can learn more and sign up here.